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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Accept No Substitutes - Pastor John Roekle

June 30, 2019 [Pentecost 3] Galatians 1:11-24 J.D.Roekle

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Accept No Substitutes

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you ordered butter for your bagel, would you accept margarine instead? That wasn’t acceptable to a man from Massachusetts who sued 23 Dunkin’ Donuts locations for serving him “margarine or a butter substitute” instead of butter with his bagels over a 4-year period. He paid 25 cents for butter and was not told a substitute was used. So, he decided to file a class action lawsuit and he won! Those joining the lawsuit could claim up to 3 buttered bakery goods, and the stores in question were required to use only butter for a year. After that year, if they used butter substitutes, their menus would have to explicitly say so.

Are you that serious about the butter vs. margarine debate? The dairy state is! Do you know there are laws here in Wisconsin regulating butter substitutes like margarine? For instance, a restaurant cannot simply serve margarine instead of butter, unless the customer specifically asks for margarine. If the restaurant does that, it could be punished by paying a fine of up to $500 and a possible jail sentence of up to 3 months. Each subsequent offence carries a penalty of up to $1000 fine and up to a year in the county jail.

As serious as Wisconsin takes butter, we want to make sure that we take the Gospel even more seriously. No, I’m not suggesting we file lawsuits or look for laws to be made about it. But we do want to make sure that the Gospel remains pure in our hearts and in our lives. Any kind of alteration to the Gospel can have worse consequences than simply a small fine or a short prison sentence. It can affect us well beyond this life. That’s because a substitute Gospel will lead to a reliance on someone or something other than Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Galatia because they were being influenced by a group of people known as the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group of people who believed in Jesus as their Savior, and yet they also believed that there were certain requirements of the Old Testament law they were to attain to in order to be saved.

And these Judaizers were apparently accusing Paul of speaking a false gospel. What was the gospel Paul preached? Listen to his reminder about that Gospel in what he told the people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4): “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

That should sound very familiar to you. That is the Gospel you listen to here. That is the Gospel you confess in the creed. Paul taught that we are saved by grace alone. That it has nothing to do with following the Law or any other requirements. We are saved by grace through faith.

Where in the world would Paul get such an idea? He says: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it.”

Paul is clear: the Gospel he preached wasn’t an invention of his. In fact, if he were to invent his own gospel, it would have looked much different. In fact, it would have looked more like the gospel of the Judaizers. It would have contained some aspect of work righteousness…of us having to do something or meet some requirement. After all, that’s how the sinful heart thinks. I must make up for my sin! The sinful heart cannot understand God’s free and faithful grace. The sinful heart wants to ask: what’s the catch? Clearly, Paul did not make up this Gospel.

And no one else made it up either. Paul makes that point by saying that he didn’t receive it from any other man. There were plenty false teachers out there. Paul didn’t receive it from them. The other apostles were around too, but Paul didn’t receive it from them either. If that’s the case, then where did Paul receive it from? “I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” Paul stated.

Remember that Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. It was Jesus himself who taught Paul the true Gospel message. That’s who teaches you the Gospel today too.

There is a distinction we should make between how Paul received the Gospel and how you and I receive it today. Paul received it by direct revelation from Jesus. He saw Jesus face to face. Jesus spoke directly to him. You and I receive the Gospel indirectly. We receive it through the Bible.

That’s not to say that God isn’t revealing the Gospel to us. He is! It is the Holy Spirit who is at work on our hearts as we hear and read Scripture. In fact, that’s what gives the Gospel its power.

We see God’s power clearly at work on the Apostle Paul’s heart. Consider who Paul was before he was a Christian. He was completely against Christ and his followers. He is first on the scene holding the garments of the people who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Paul’s zeal is well known. Before he was a zealous missionary, he was a zealous persecutor. Paul tells us: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”

The Apostle Paul that the world knows best today is the one who is the great missionary. The Apostle Paul’s zeal to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles is well known. In fact, we can trace the fact that we have the Gospel among us back to Paul. When he was in Asia Minor, he had a vision of a man in Macedonia which is in modern day Greece pleading with him to come to his home country. Paul went to Macedonia marking the move of the Gospel to Europe. Where did our ancestors get the Gospel from? From Europe…primarily from Germany.

The fact that the Gospel is among us today is to God’s credit. God deserves all the glory for the fact that we have his Gospel. But not only that we have it, but that we believe it.

Think again about Paul. In fact, look at the reaction of the people of Judea when they learned about Paul. “I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.”

Your story may not sound as miraculous as Paul’s, but it truly is. In fact, in some ways, your story is identical to Paul’s. In describing himself, you should also be able to see a description of yourself: “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”

God set you apart from birth too. He had great plans for you too. He called you to be his own. It isn’t that he saw something special in you. It isn’t that he saw something unique in you. It isn’t as if he saw you as better than anyone else. No, in spite of being conceived and born in sin, and fit only for serving Satan, he called you to be his own by his grace. When you were baptized, Christ was revealed in you. And now your mission is to communicate Christ to others. You are who you are by the grace of God, and to the glory of God.

Butter or a butter substitute such as margarine? What do you prefer on your bagel or bread? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. But that’s not the case with the Gospel. Remember the Good News is that Jesus has done everything necessary for you to put you in a right standing with God, so that you will reside with your Savior in life and in death. Believe it! Hold onto this truth zealously. And no matter what anyone else may say, accept no substitutes. You have the one true Gospel that saves! Amen.

Take Jesus at His Word - Pastor John Roekle

May 26, 2019 [Easter 6] John 14:23–29 J.D.Roekle

23Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25"All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Take Jesus at His Word

Dear Friends in Christ,

In 1975, a child rights advocate by the name of Roger Hart conducted a study on where children felt safe to play. He focused on 86 children between the ages of three to twelve in a small town in Vermont. He would follow the kids throughout the day, documenting everywhere the children went by themselves. He figured out the distance each child was allowed to go by themselves and what the average was for every age group.

The researcher discovered that these kids had remarkable freedom. Even four- or five-year-olds traveled unsupervised throughout their neighborhoods, and by the time they were 10, most of the kids had the run of the entire town. And the kids' parents weren't worried either.

Then several years ago (about 2014), he went back to the same town to document the children of the children that he had originally tracked in the '70s, and when he asked the new generation of kids to show him where they played alone, what he found floored him. He said, "They just didn't have very far to take me, just walking around their property." In other words, the huge circle of freedom on the maps had grown tiny.

He added, "There is no free range outdoors. Even when the kids are older, parents now say, 'I need to know where you are at all times.'" But what's odd about all of this, is that the town is not more dangerous than it was before. There's literally no more crime today than there was 40 years ago.

So why has the invisible leash between parent and child tightened so much? The researcher says it was absolutely clear from his interviews. The reason was fear. He concluded that fear of the world outside our door narrows the circle of our lives.

As the study demonstrates, fear can be debilitating. That’s the truth no matter what the fear is. What do you fear most? Something bad happening to your child? Something bad happening to your parent? Contracting a serious sickness or disease? Losing your job? Whatever the case is, our lives need not be ruled by fear. That’s because you and I have Jesus’ comforting words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Let’s take Jesus at his Word!

Now Jesus spoke these words as he was gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed. It was the day before the most violent day he would face. Jesus was trying to prepare them for it with these words. In just a matter of hours, their lives would be filled with fear.

And what prompted Jesus’ line of thought in these verses was a question by one on his disciples: “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

The question showed that they didn’t fully grasp what Jesus was all about. There was still this thought in their minds that Jesus would come to be some kind of bread king over a visible earthly kingdom. But with Jesus’ words, he wanted them to know that they were misunderstanding why he was appearing to them at this time.

Jesus came to earth for a specific purpose. He came with a mission in mind. And his time on earth was limited, and so therefore his time with people was limited. In fact, it was limited to only about 33 years; 30 years of which he spent in his hometown of Nazareth. And even for the 3 years that Jesus spent in public ministry, he traveled only in Israel, from Galilee to Judea.

The way in which Jesus would get his message out was through them. Through his disciples. But soon, these disciples would be paralyzed by fear. And it wasn’t because Jesus didn’t prepare them well enough. He repeated things over and over to them. But they didn’t get it. Not yet, anyway.

But nonetheless, Jesus was there preparing them for the time he would no longer be visible to them, when he would return in glory to heaven. They needed every bit of Jesus’ preparation. They needed Jesus’ patient instruction. It would be that very evening when Jesus would be arrested and all would flee in fear. It would only spiral down for them from there. They would witness their Savior being brutally treated. The scourging. Spitting. Mocking. Nails through hands and feet. Jesus exposed in the air for all the world to see. His last breath. And finally his burial.

They needed Jesus reminder of why he was going through all of that. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” When Jesus went through these things, they didn’t catch on that he was winning peace for them. In fact, where do we see the disciples on the day Jesus rose? Cowering in fear and huddled together in a hidden room. Even though Jesus repeatedly said he would rise on the third day, they still didn’t grasp it.

In fact, it wasn’t until Jesus patiently reminded them in his many appearances to them. And as he appeared to them, he also reminded them that he wouldn’t be with them visibly much longer. Jesus knew they weren’t understanding all of this. That’s why he also told them: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”

That’s when it all became clear to them. When Jesus left! Once he ascended, they had the complete picture. Jesus would suffer and die for our salvation in order to bring us peace. Jesus would rise to assure us that our sins are indeed forgiven. Jesus would then return to his Father’s side – just as he always intended. And not to sit there idly. Jesus returned to heaven in order to prepare a place for us in heaven. In order to prepare us for the time he would return.

Just as he didn’t leave his disciples without what they needed, he also doesn’t leave you and me without everything we need. You have his Word on that! Believe it! When you do, you have true peace.

When everything is going well, it’s easy to believe it, right? It is easy, that is, until one of our fears is realized. It is then that our faith is tested. And we begin to question the Lord. Where were you Jesus when this happened? Why aren’t you around now while I’m going through this?

So what do we do with those fears? Many times we create a diversion. If I’m not thinking about it, maybe it will just go away. Or we perhaps try to create another reality for ourselves. Isn’t that what leads to additions of various kinds? At the very least it can lead to bad habits such as ignoring God’s Word by not reading it or by not coming to church or by not listening to it when you are in church.

Of course, when we are faced with fear, we have a choice to make: either ignore what Jesus says or take him at his Word. Ignoring Jesus doesn’t make the fear go away. Listening to Jesus puts everything in perspective for you. Listening to Jesus quells your fear.

The truth of the matter is, that because Jesus lives, you have nothing to fear! Isn’t that what Jesus said? He told you your hearts need not be troubled. You need not fear, because he took care of the permanent effects of sin by suffering hell itself in your place, and he lives to tell you about it!

And so you have peace. Not the kind of peace the world strives after. Peace from war. Peace from violence. Peace among family or peace between neighbors. You have peace with the Almighty God because your sin has disappeared before God’s sight through the blood of Jesus. Having this peace, the circle of your life has expanded dramatically. It now reaches all the way to heavenly glory with Jesus. Don’t just take my word for it. Take Jesus at his Word! Amen.

Remember Jesus Christ: He Has Risen! - Pastor John Roekle

April 21, 2019 [Easter Sunday] 2 Timothy 2:8 J.D.Roekle

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.

Remember Jesus Christ: He Has Risen!

Dear Friends in Christ,

How’s your memory? Let’s test it for a moment. What month and day did Easter fall on last year? You’re correct if you said April 1st. Now, what did you do on Easter? Were you in church here or somewhere else? What did you have for your Easter dinner? What details do you remember? If you are like me, Easter celebrations tend to run together and it’s difficult to remember many of the details from year to year. Sometimes we need to be reminded by people with better memories than ours.

Early on the first Easter morning, an angel announced to the women coming to prepare Jesus’ body for burial that Jesus wasn’t there. “He has risen!” the angel said. And then, the angel went on to test their memory: “ Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Then they remembered his words.” It was a good thing that angel was there. He helped clear things up for them as to what was happening to Jesus by simply pointing them to words Jesus had spoken to them.

The Apostle Paul is testing our memory this morning. What’s so special about Easter Sunday? The devil wants nothing more than to get us to forget its significance. The world around us tries to divide our attention which often keeps us from remembering. And we are our own worst enemies as we get so distracted by so many things that are far less important. Today on this Easter morning, let’s simply remember Jesus Christ and hear again the simple yet powerful truth that He is risen! We’ll do that by talking about each phrase of this short verse.

Paul begins: Remember Jesus Christ. Names are important. But a name isn’t just merely a title. A name includes reputation. It includes everything that a person is, or has done or stands for. For instance, what do you think of when you hear the name Giannis Antetokounmpo? He plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. He will likely win the MVP. He’s known as the ‘Greek Freak’ because of his abilities for a man his size. Perhaps even more comes to mind when you think about Giannis.

Now consider the name Jesus. What does this name bring to mind? This is the God-given name for him at birth which angels delivered to Mary and Joseph. It is a name which means ‘Savior.’ From the moment this Jesus came into the world, he was all about carrying out his mission to save. Everything he did played a part in completing what he had set out to do in defeating Satan who had ruined his creation. On Good Friday, the battle reached its final decisive hour. It was on the cross where God and Satan battled for your soul. It was a struggle to the death, and by the end of the day, Jesus the Son of God lay dead in a tomb. But that wasn’t the end of Jesus! Far from it. It is on this day that we celebrate that Jesus has arisen. He is alive!

What you need to remember is that Jesus is also the Christ. Jesus is the ‘Anointed one.’ God chose him and anointed him to go the distance for us. The Old Testament prophecies talked about a Messiah who would come. Jesus is that Messiah who fulfilled all those prophecies. God chose Jesus not only to suffer and die, but also to rise and to live forever. Now Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God where he rules all things in heaven and earth. Do you remember this Jesus? Since he has all this power, he also has power to save all those who believe in him.

Paul also calls on us to specifically remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. At times, we may try to comfort each other when a loved one dies by thinking that death it natural. Death is inevitable, but it’s not natural. God did not create people to die at the beginning. But when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered into the world. And not only physical death, but eternal death – permanent separation from God.

That’s what was in store for every sinner…each one of us. That truth can fill us with fear! Our sin separates us from God, threatens to separate us forever! But remember that Jesus Christ was raise from the dead. He carried all your sin to the cross with him and now he comes out of the grave victorious. His resurrection proves that God accepted his sacrifice for our sins.

And Jesus’ resurrection is the very foundation of our faith. That’s what we celebrate today. His resurrection gives us certainty about our forgiveness and all the promises God has made. You can trust God with your life and with your soul!

Have you ever wondered what nonbelievers do at Easter? Yes, often time the world crowds in and puts a secular spin on Easter. But that side of Easter hasn’t caught on like it has a Christmas. And so, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, what do nonbelievers do? Even more, what do they do when they stand next to a casket? Or what do they think when faced with their own mortality?

Be thankful, dear friends that you remember the truth about Jesus. That he is the resurrection and the life! That whoever believes in him will live, even though they die!

There’s another important truth Paul reminds us of: Jesus Christ is descended from David. David was a man, and as a descendant of David, Jesus Christ was also a man. That means that not only did the Son of God rise on Easter morning. The Son of Man did too. In so doing, Jesus is giving us a glimpse of the day he will raise us from the grave. When he calls us out of our graves, our bodies will be much different, much improved. Our bodies will no more be broken with handicaps, diseases, or illnesses. There will be no more aches or pains. No longer will we experience disappointment or fear or experience tragedy. The old order of things will all be gone.

Paul reminds us that “We will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (1 Corinthians 15:51,52) Jesus was raised from the dead. And because he rose, he will show his power over death by raising up all people and glorifying the bodies of all who trust in him. That’s the comforting truth that Job confessed: “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:26,27)

The Apostle Paul wraps up all these things that we talked about this morning by saying: “This is my gospel.” Now, this ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ isn’t just Paul’s privately held religious opinions. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ! It is God’s message that he gifted to Paul ad to us. It is a message of peace and hope to the world! God has given it to the world. Because God said it, it is true! In God’s grace, he has given this gospel to us. Your faith in him is secure and sold. This gospel is rock, not shifting sand.

Dear friends in Christ, by next year at this time, you may forget many of the details of what you did today. But always remember what God has done for you. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. Amen.